The Wharf Revue is a cosy ritual for Canberrans, offering an autopsy of the political year and a welcome chuckle at Australia’s leaders.
Now running for over twenty years, the Wharf Revue marries sly political caricature with snappy tunes. The core team of Jonathan Biggins, Drew Forsythe and Phil Scott are all on board this year, joined by their frequent collaborator Mandy Bishop.
This year the revue tours under Soft Tread, for a more intimate show that trades spectacle for character. In the opening, the team defuses expectations with a winking song about a tight budget.
In Can of Worms the team’s cunning impersonations of politicians are centre stage, with highlights including Biggins’ venomous Trump, Bishop’s feisty Jacqui Lambie, and Scott’s smug Kevin Rudd. Gladys Berejiklian’s lament was surprisingly emotional and sympathetic, and the most satisfying joke of the night came from a skit on Craig Kelly’s incessant text messages.
The sketches nailed the characters and had good variety, but did not consistently build on the premise, or have a satisfying payoff. As fantastic as the characterisation always is, for veterans of the revue the personalities may feel worn. This could be a reflection of the inertia of Australian politics, where relics like Pauline Hanson have nothing new to say but still grab headlines.
Musical director Scott had some imaginative flourishes this year, twisting the hopeful musical Come From Away into a savage indictment of Australia’s refugee policy, and mischievously appropriating The Banana Boat Song for a lyrical denunciation of ScoMo.
The final sketch of the night, a Wizard of Oz parody with millennial Dorothy unable to find a home, was thoughtful but lacked the panache necessary to end the night on a high note.
Last year’s revue, Good Night and Good Luck, was a home run, energised by an embrace of COVID-19 and the apocalyptic madness of the American election. This year's revue dodged some of the year’s hot topics like Australia’s vaccine rollout and the parliament house sex scandals. Despite his dominant role in Australian politics over the year, Scott Morrison was a conspicuous absence, especially in a show that still relishes its parodies of Kevin Rudd and John Howard.
Can of Worms delivers more of the same, but for the Wharf Revue, the same is satisfying, and in a chaotic world, even comforting.